April 1996



Involvement by general managers in information technology issues is lacking.

A large knowledge gap exists between general managers and technology managers in government, according to a new study conducted by the Strategic Computing and Telecommunications Program at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. That knowledge gap has resulted in ineffective leadership in federal information technology programs, the study says.

"New information technology applications entail organizational changes that cannot be implemented by technical experts alone, but instead require strong partnerships between IT managers and general managers," says Jerry Mechling, director of the Kennedy School program. "To create partnerships needed for effective IT leadership, this knowledge gap needs to be substantially reduced by opening communications and building relationships."

The eight-year research project, which was done in collaboration with IBM's Institute for Electronic Government, involved interviewing 418 executives in federal, state and local governments throughout the United States and Canada. Answers to the study's 150 questions revealed that general managers are perceived-even by themselves-as having inadequate knowledge of information technology issues. IT managers were perceived as having inadequate knowledge of strategic and operational issues.

"As information technology grows hugely more cost effective, it is used not only for incremental changes such as automating pre-existing work flows-payroll, finance, inventory management-but for quantum changes such as inventing new work flows," says Mechling. "Difficult and important applications, such as Internet services, require general managers to be more involved in IT leadership."

The study found that while information technology projects with the least confusion and conflict can be implemented via standard project management techniques, others require special efforts to clarify objectives or negotiate with opponents. But today's IT leadership, the study concluded, too often focuses on technical and economic feasibility-ignoring the soft issues of behavioral feasibility.

"Technology leaders need to invest in the right amount of IT-related learning," says Tom Fletcher, associate director of the Kennedy School's Strategic Computing and Telecommunications Program. "In rapidly changing environments, front-line and senior managers need to become aggressively involved in educating individuals and teams, in benchmarking against world-class IT performers, and in experimenting with networked work flows and organizations."

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